Pandemic is the Word of the Year

It’s no surprise that editorial staff at Merriam-Webster chose pandemic as the 2020 word of the year. The word was based on usage of the word as well as statistics including the number and frequency of online searches.

Merriam-Webster’s definition of a pandemic is as follows: ‘an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area (such as multiple countries or continents) and typically affects a significant proportion of the population.’ website says that the word pandemic has its roots in Greek. Pan meaning ‘all ‘ or ‘every’ and demos meaning ‘people’.

Pandemic — word of the year

Use of ‘pandemic’

Pandemic is not a new word. But, for many, it was not a word used in day-to-day conversations until March 12, 2020, when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Merriam-Webster reports that on that day alone, over 115,000 searches for the word pandemic occurred.

Since March, most of us use this word many times every day. We talk about how long the pandemic will last, how the pandemic has changed our lives, how our lifestyle has been affected by closures and restrictions.

Children use the word as casually, and as frequently, as do adults.  They understand how to wear masks correctly when at school.  Sometimes they are frightened by news of sickness or deaths. They long for opportunities for playtime with friends. They speak of how the pandemic has prohibited them from seeing close family members, or from having birthday parties.

Pandemic Effects

Not one newscast ends without some reference to the effects of the pandemic. It may be a citation of numbers of positive tests or numbers of hospitalizations or numbers of deaths. There may be news of restrictions or lockdowns. Recently, newscasts brought an element of hope with announcements of vaccines.

This pandemic has affected our behaviour, our culture, our environment.

Public Health Authorities advise frequent hand-washing, wearing masks, and staying 2 meters away from others when in public indoor spaces.

Politicians struggle to balance population health effects and economic devastation. Many hesitate to announce restrictions such as the closure of bars, restaurants, and gyms in a naive attempt to keep small businesses afloat.

Dependence on and use of technology has escalated. We’ve learned to use Zoom or Google Meet for business and for socializing.  Most education happens online. Family gatherings, hospital visits, book club meetings, church services, and happy hour events also happen on our screens.

Travel, as we knew it before March 2020 is a distant memory with cruise ships docked, resort communities empty, and airlines fighting to survive. The same applies to concerts, theatre performances, and sports events.

The long term effects of the pandemic are unknown. It’s a world-wide phenomenon that has displaced our daily way of life. People have lost jobs; businesses are shuttered. Everyone has experienced some level of psychological change and stress from the anticipatory anxiety that is rampant. Social chit-chat when out and about is limited as we get nervous when people stand too close or interact without wearing a mask.

Continued Use of Pandemic in our Lexicon

My humble opinion is that frequency of the use of the word pandemic will continue well into 2021 and beyond.

We already hear the term ‘BP’ used to describe ‘Before Pandemic’ when life felt more normal.

Many are also planning post-pandemic activities including travel, parties, and hug fests.  I’ll be playing a cautious waiting game with the expectation that personal behavioural changes including hand-washing, social distancing and wearing masks will be components of pandemic interactions for months. The frequent use of the word pandemic won’t go away.



4 Replies to “Pandemic is the Word of the Year”

  1. Hi Jeanette! It makes total sense that “Merriam-Webster chose pandemic as the 2020 word of the year.” But it’s sort of sad IMHO. It’s become rather routine that a lot of us who blog typically pick a “word of the year” (WOTY) as a sort of guiding intention of what we would like to be, see, experience, create in the coming year. I doubt ANY of us picked pandemic but most of us have been stuck with it. My word for 2020 (picked long before the pandemic) was YES! and I honestly thought several times that it was the worst word possible. But when I think about it, it helped me to accept where I was, where we all were, and still look for the good (yeah I’m an optimist) so maybe it was the right word after all. As for now I’m focusing on my WOTY for 2021 and it most definitely will not be pandemic. ~Kathy

    1. Hello Kathy, I agree that pandemic was not a popular choice for WOTY! Nobody expected the far-reaching and enduring effects that we’ve experienced.
      My WOTY for 2020 was DETERMINATION. I chose it to reinforce the fulfillment of intentions for the year. Like you, I wondered about this word after the pandemic hit in March but it turned out to be the right WOTY for me. Given all the changes and restrictions of the pandemic, I needed every ounce of determination in my soul to stay positive in the face of many limitations. Stay well, Jeanette

  2. I do think some things will never go back to the BP (Before Pandemic). Some of these changes will be good. Back when I working, it was “normal” for sick people to come to work. The thinking was it showed dedication. I didn’t like it then. Hopefully, we will never go back to that. I also think there will be other permanent changes – like more contact-less doors and transactions. For us personally, we began purchasing online for many things, and I think that will continue. I also think proof of a vaccine will be required for many activities – cruises, schools, crossing the borders. It will be interesting to say the least. Thanks for your post, stay safe, and enjoy your day!

    1. Hopefully, everyone will learn from pandemic experiences and stay at home when unwell. I’m looking forward to getting the vaccine and a vaccination card. The vaccination cards will be as precious as our passports! We will carry these cards as essentials and use them for admissions to concerts, theatres, and arenas — as well as for travel! The challenge will be to ‘hold on’ until that time arrives.

I welcome feedback and will reply to your comments!

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